Customer data privacy and the responsibility of businesses to protect it has become a very hot topic of late. Some of that is due to the fact that the rapid evolution of the internet has facilitated a huge new amount of data collection by businesses, and policies surrounding such practices just haven’t kept pace. At the same time, there has been a sharp increase in the number of customer data breaches, which seem to grow in scale each day. In response, businesses of all sizes need to redouble their efforts to keep their customer’s data safe and secure. To help, here’s a guide on how your business can keep its customer data safe at all times and protect itself from the threat of a breach.

Examine Data Collection Practices

In the digital world, customer analytics is an almost inescapable part of market success. After all, any insights that your business can derive about its customers could provide a critical advantage over the competition. Still, the bottom line of data privacy is that the less data you collect, the easier it will be to protect. That’s why the first step toward protecting customer privacy is to conduct a thorough review of your business’s data collection practices to minimize the data you’re retaining in the first place. After your review you should be left with three types of data:

  • Data that must be collected – such as financial data and sales transaction data
  • Data that serves an analytical purpose – such as customer preferences, statistics, and descriptive data
  • Data with no clear use cases

After removing the data with no clear use cases, a good next step is to develop a policy that allows customers to opt out of your analytical data collection where possible. Those two steps should drastically cut down on the amount of data you’ll need to protect.

Bolster Data Security

Although the manner and means of data collection and storage will vary from company to company, there are several best practices for data security that always apply. First, it’s essential to make sure that your company’s website is using an SSL certificate so that all data passing through it will be fully encrypted, including any systems that process payment data. Then, it is necessary to make sure that any data storage, be it on-site or cloud-based, is also encrypted to prevent unauthorized access. Last, but not least, it’s essential to limit which employees have access to customer data and to make sure that their access credentials include strong passwords (and two-factor authentication wherever possible).

Craft Realistic Retention Policies

Once you’ve minimized your company’s data collection and taken steps to secure the customer data you’re storing, the final step is to create a data retention policy that will keep your data sets both relevant and manageable. The key is to determine how long each type of data should be kept, depending on how long it will remain useful. For example, in most lines of business, sales data only has a useful analytical lifespan of three to five years. Keeping data beyond its useful life not only increases management and security challenges but also can skew the results of any analysis for business intelligence purposes.

Maintaining Security

By following the guidelines we’ve set forth here, most businesses will be in pretty good shape with regard to protecting their customers’ data privacy. Obviously, no two businesses are alike, so there’s always going to be some grey areas and judgment calls to be made as you craft data collection, protection and retention policies, but it’s always wise to err on the side of caution. If your company needs assistance in making sure that you’ve set appropriate data privacy policies and that your website is up to date and secure, contact us today and let our team of experts help you protect what matters most – your customers’ privacy.